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  Sun, July 25, 2004


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Molitor was a beaut
By BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun


Paul Molitor had a decision to make after winning the most-valuable-player award in the 1993 World Series.

Given a van for his efforts in the Blue Jays victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the DH donated it to a North York facility for teenagers.

Days later, a compelling letter from another organization arrived, asking for the van.

"That's when I stepped in," John Boggs said yesterday from Cooperstown, N.Y. Boggs did marketing for Joe Carter, Robbie Alomar and Molitor, who along with Dennis Eckersley will be inducted into the Hall of Fame today.

"As an illustration of the type of guy Paul is, he wanted to make a second donation, buy another van," Boggs said. "I told him every charity has a heartfelt story. If you keep this up, you'll be inundated to the point you'll need a fleet to give away."

Molitor arrived with the Jays at the Louisville winter meetings of 1992 as a free agent, leaving the Milwaukee Brewers. The Jays decided to go with him over Dave Winfield.

Molitor showed up that off-season for the annual Jays caravan and must have answered the question, oh, about 45 times: "How do you expect to replace Dave Winfield?"

The popular Winfield -- like Molitor, from St. Paul, Minn. -- batted .290 with 26 homers, 108 RBIs and had the World Series-winning double against the Atlanta Braves in 1992.

Molitor didn't have the same power, but stole more bases and was five years younger. He hit .332, with 22 homers and 111 RBIs in '93 and scored the Series-winning run on Carter's homer.

Carter was the first of the Jays hugged in the mass of back-slapping at the plate. An overwhelmed Molitor was next.

"I knew that Dave's impact had been extensive and a huge part of their championship," Molitor said. "It took me a while to get comfortable and as the season unfolded, I got to doing what I had been doing, just on a little bit bigger stage, because the Jays have more exposure than the Brewers."

Molitor had been to the World Series in 1982 with Milwaukee, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals.

"My No. 1 highlight was 1993," said Molitor, who became an off-season resident of Toronto, the first U.S. player to do so in 11 years.

"But, 1982 with the Brewers was the most fun," he said. "We had guys who came up together and the city got behind us, as Toronto did."

Molitor was with the Brewers from 1978 to '92 and played three years with the Jays before joining his hometown Minnesota Twins.

The Hall will induct him as a Brewer.

He started out as a second baseman, moved to the outfield, then third, first -- he was selected an all-star at all but outfield -- and was moved to designated hitter in 1991.

"That was the toughest adjustment," Molitor told reporters yesterday. "I went from being on the field the whole game to being involved for 10 minutes in three hours."

Molitor joins former Jays coach Bobby Doerr, 1977-81; Phil Niekro (1987) and Winfield as the only Jays in Cooperstown.

BATTLES TO REMEMBER

HOW TO lump two Hall of Famers together? Easy.

In the final matchup between Paul Molitor of the Minnesota Twins was at the plate against Oakland A's closer Dennis Eckersley in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game at the Metrodome in 1996.

"We were probably 20 games out and I looked at it as a chance to win a game," Molitor remembered yesterday at Cooperstown, N.Y. Molitor dropped a bunt, beat it out and the Twins left with the win. Eckersley screamed expletives at Molitor.

"We were both pushing 40 at the time," Molitor said. "I was trying to show our young guys there is more than one way to win a game."

Eckersley remembers the screaming, saying: "I was into that macho thing."

"Looking back, I was a poor sport," Eckersley said. "That night, I phoned (A's manager) Tony La Russa and asked: 'What did you think of Molitor bunting?' He said it was a good play."

MORE HONOURS

Also being honoured today is broadcaster Lon Simmons and baseball writer Murray Chass, of the New York Times.

"I went to bed listening to Lon Simmons and Russ Hodges, waiting for Lon to call a home run," Eckersley said almost jumping out of his chair. "He'd say: 'You can tell it goodbye.' "

Both Molitor and Eckersley are unique. Molitor is the first player elected to play the majority of his games at DH, while Eckersley is only the third reliever elected, joining Hoyt Wilhelm and Rollie Fingers.

Molitor was the DH for 1,174 of his 2,683 games.

"I used to look at him in the on-deck circle and I didn't want to face him," Eckersley said. "I'd rather face some guy with a big swing. He had the quickest bat ever. You didn't know how to get him out.

"He took me deep four teams. Some power hitters never did that."

ECK MADE HISTORY

DENNIS ECKERSLEY was told that Kirk Gibson's pinch-hit homer off him in the 1988 World Series was voted the No. 1 moment in the history of Los Angeles sports.

"Kirk can have that home run the rest of his life -- I'm going into the Hall of Fame. See ya," Eckersley shot back with a laugh, his eyes twinkling as always.

Then, he was told that in the 25-year history of the Blue Jays, the homer Eckersley surrendered to Robbie Alomar in the 1992 ALCS was considered the second most important in their history.

"That one hurt more than Gibson's," the always frank Eckersley said. "Gibson's homer put us down 1-0 in the World Series. We still had a chance.

"Alomar's? That hurt me, worse than the 1988 Series because I felt I had a lot to do with why we didn't get to the Series. I'd won the MVP and the Cy Young. That game got me big time," Eckersley said. "Robbie tied it up, but we ended up losing and they won the whole thing, so that hurt more.

"I'd been closer for a number of years. My expectations of myself were so high I wasn't expecting that. Great moment."

Eckersley, who saved 51 of 54 chances in 1992, had the Jays bench wound up when he fanned Ed Sprague to end the eighth, pointing into the dugout with his finger, like a gunslinger with a pistol.

After trailing 6-1, the Jays scored three times in the eighth and then Alomar hit a two-run homer in the ninth to complete the latest, greatest comeback in post-season history.

Alomar dropped the bat and threw his arms in the air as the ball rocketed into the right field seats.

The Jays won it in the 11th innings to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

While Alomar's homer came in Oakland, Gibson's two-run shot came in the bottom of the ninth in L.A., with the A's up a run.

"Everyone at Dodger Stadium is standing, cheering and high-fiving each other," Eckersley said. "I'm trying to make eye contact with a teammate and everyone is avoiding me, their eyes darting away."

Eckersley did more than give up a pair of post-season homers. He had 390 career saves, won 190 games, threw a no-hitter and started the all-star game in Montreal for the AL.

EX-JAY OF THE WEEK

HE HAD 508 hits in three seasons with the Blue Jays. He had another 21 in the post-season.

And what happens if, with one out and Rickey Henderson on first, he had grounded into a 6-4-3 double play in Game 6 of the 1992 World Series against Philadelphia Phillies reliever Mitch Williams?

Joe Carter would never have come to the plate to hit the game-winning homer to make the Jays back-to-back World Series winners.

In all, Paul Molitor, who along with Dennis Eckersley, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this afternoon in Cooperstown, N.Y., had 3,319 hits, eighth best in major-league history.

So, it's a slam dunk that he is our ex-Jay of the week.

The Jays signed him at the winter meetings in December of 1992 to replace Dave Winfield. He left as a free agent when all he was promised for the 1996 season was 300 at-bats, as the Jays were making room for Carlos Delgado at DH.

Moilitor went to the Twins and collected his 3,000 hit -- the first to do so with a triple -- while playing the Kansas City Royals.